Getting an MBA your way: on line

When you consider that the typical MBA graduate can expect a 50 percent increase in salary over his or her pre-MBA salary, it’s no wonder people are seeking to earn the degree in greater numbers than ever before and institutions are creating a delivery system to accommodate extraordinary demand.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there has been a 310 percent increase in MBA degrees awarded in the U.S. since 1975. In the mid-seventies, about 35,000 MBA degrees were awarded annually. By 2000, 112,000 MBA degrees were earned each year, making it the most highly sought-after graduate degree.

Grand Rapids-based Davenport University offers degree programs through 30 locations in Michigan and Indiana, including Traverse City. Davenport launched its MBA program in the fall 2000 with 41 students. Last year, the program’s enrollment reached 307. In Traverse City, Davenport has 45 MBA students.

According to Jones, 40 percent of its MBA students are enrolled completely online and 60 percent combine online courses with campus classes.

“We’ve seen double-digit growth each year in online enrollment,” said Ian Jones, Career Services Coordinator for Northern Michigan Operations. “Online courses are becoming a more popular option because of the flexibility issue.”

Davenport’s web courses make it possible for students to obtain their MBA degree in as little as 18 months. However, most students take 24 months to complete the program. Online classes duplicate campus courses; it’s simply a new delivery system.

“It’s been a major leap in the infrastructure of education,” Jones said.

According to Jones, web-based education exceeded expectations during its debut years. The school now offers 43 degree programs online, including six MBA programs. He attributes its popularity and success to program quality and responsiveness to the need of the adult student.

“You get the credibility with the flexibility,” he said.

But online course work requires greater levels of self-discipline and some students may find the classroom more suitable for their personality.

With 14 campuses across the state, including Cadillac, the Baker College System is the largest independent college in Michigan. Baker responded to the changing needs of students and business by being the first Michigan-based college to offer degrees completely online. The online MBA program began in 1995 with 75 students. Today, 950 of the school’s 1,100 MBA candidates are taking advantage of the accredited online program.

“The smaller schools have been going into online programs because they are able to react more quickly to market demands,” said Chuck Gurden Vice President of Graduate Admissions.

Gurden said Baker’s 10 MBA concentrations are designed to accommodate the working adult and their businesses. Students are able to adjust course time to their work schedules, meaning they no longer have to sacrifice a normal work day to attend classes. They can participate from anywhere in the world that has adequate Internet connection, logging on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The college is one of 29 colleges constituting eArmy University. eArmyU’s consortium offers soldier-students 160 degree programs to choose from to fulfill educational goals from anywhere in the world, including the MBA.

“eArmyU provides incentives. A soldier can get a laptop and connect from anywhere in the world,” Gurden said. “Baker has 410 military people in the program.”

Web-based courses not only reach students in every corner of the globe, the elimination of geographical limitations means schools are able to hire instructors from any location.

“We get the cream of the crop,” Gurden said. “Seventy percent of our instructors are from out of state.”

TUITION REIMBURSEMENT

When online degrees first came on the scene, Gurden said many companies shied away from online graduates. But now, 60 percent of online students receive reimbursement from their employers.

North District President of Huntington National Bank Bruce Reavely said his financial institution encourages employees to pursue higher education through tuition reimbursement. For the company, the investment in education pays out with a more highly-skilled work force. For the student, it improves marketability in an environment where jobs are tight.

Whether a degree is earned online or through campus classes is not an issue for Reavely. He said the issue is whether the student’s program has given them the necessary tools to meet the demands of today’s business climate. However, Reavely finds the availability of online programs advantageous to both employer and employee.

“If you went back 20 years and wanted an advanced degree, you had to drive down to Central. There were a lot of people who drove down Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays to get their degree,” he said. “What it meant to us was that we had tired people. It was nice people were dedicated and committed, but at the same time it took so much more energy from normal life requirements to get a degree.”

Southfield-based Lawrence Technological University has seven satellite campuses in Michigan, including one at the NMC University Center. LTU launched an online MBA program last fall in Traverse City with 22 students. Three of the students receive 100 percent tuition reimbursement from employers. Five employers pay up to $5,200 for a calendar year, the federally mandated maximum before being considered income. (This includes a Huntington Bank employee.) Two employers reimburse an undisclosed amount to the LTU MBA students.

A second MBA class of more than 20 students begins with the fall semester. Of the multi-campus school’s 900 graduate students, 500 are enrolled in a MBA concentration. LTU MBA students combine online courses with three weekend campus class sessions per semester.

LTU Assistant Dean and Executive Director of Graduate Management Programs Laura Majewski believes classroom experiences generate a lively dialogue, energy and ideas, although the online environment also provides opportunities for synchronous conversation. The mixed delivery system, according to Majewski, provides the best of both worlds with classroom sessions offering opportunities to support various learning styles.

“I want to make sure the quality and rigor is there and the hybrid program seems to be a better approach,” she said.

In a time when learning institutions struggle with budget problems, online program delivery might seem a practical way to reduce institution costs. But, Majewski said, in reality, web-education only shifts costs. Brick and mortar expenses are replaced with technology infrastructure, maintenance and technical support costs. Online professors may demand higher salaries due to the fact they must be available extended hours to accommodate the students’ need for flexibility.

Colleges benefit financially through online programs by geographically enlarging their market. Majewski said communities are another winner in the development of online higher education.

Through web-based learning, rural MBA students bring the latest ideas in their field to the workplace, opening new possibilities for growth not only for themselves, but also for their employers and the community at large. BN

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